Think you have it bad getting parts from abroad for your vehicle. Put yourself in the shoes of the country’s national railway, an institution with low funding and struggling to keep the few trains not severely damaged by the almost daily incidents with vehicles.

The Apolo is the backbone of San Jose’s commuter train service. The machines in use in Costa Rica were built in the 1980s and refurbished in the 2000s.

According to the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles (Incofer), getting parts for the Apolo trains takes up to 310 days. That is almost a year.

A great part of the reason is that the Apolo trains, imported from Spain in 2009, were built in the 1980s and refurbished in the 2000s, according to the former head of the Incofer, Miguel Carabaguíaz.

Think that is old. The other locomotives, the blue ones, used daily are from the 1960s.

This is Costa Rica’s mass transport system that attempts to move thousands daily on weekdays, a service that besides having to deal with normal maintenance of its trains, has to deal with constant run-ins with vehicles.

The arrival of the first four Apolo trains in Costa Rica in 2009

In its report, La Nacion gives the examples of public tenders, although approved in days, taking months to get the parts in the country. La Nacion hinted that the internal workings of the Incofer may be the major culprit, citing that it requested information of tenders from the Incofer on October 4, but it wasn’t until December 12 it received a reply.

The former Incofer president defends the purchase of the Apolo trains, saying when the trains were purchased they came with an ample inventory of spare parts, valued at some 200,000 Euros.

The man who is responsible for the reviving of the commuter train for the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) of San Jose and replaced by the current administration, sustains that wearable parts like brake shoes and others to maintain the trains in good condition was part of the purchase.
He would not speculate publicly as to the current situation.

In the first nine months of 2016, the commuter train moved 2,872,000 people on the Heredia-San José, Pavas-Curridabat, San José-Cartago and Belén-San José routes.

This year, in the same period this year, the train moved 2,894,000 people on the same routes. Not a big jump in ridership, only 25,000 more people used the train the first nine months of this year over the same period last year.

Elizabeth Briceño, the current head of the Incofer, announced months ago the plan to purchase eight new trains for 2018, the first 3 expected to arrive in the first three months of the year. As well, the Incofer will be starting negotiations for the development of an electric train service.

While the commuter train could be an important part of the solution to San Jose’s major traffic congestion, red tape to obtain replacement parts and new trains, leading to poor and constant interrupted service, is not giving confidence for people to opt for the train.

One example is the hours of operation. The limited train service only runs, when it runs, in the mornings and afternoons. That is, commuters have to arrange their work schedule to accommodate the train, rather than the other way around.


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